As the last of the summer approaches in the UK, we look back at a nostalgic feature on the beautiful British seaside.
Twilight on Brighton Pier — and above the haze of neon signs and spotlights, flocks of starlings swarm against the teal blue sky. Their wings pull together in one direction, then sharply turn in another, mimicking the rise and fall of the waves below.
This meeting of natural theatre with the mechanical magic of arcades and funfair rides is the reason I fell in love with the British seaside as a child. That, and the broad palette of sensations to be enjoyed; the smell and taste of treats — hot doughnuts covered in icing sugar, and fine-spun candy floss, brittle on your tongue — and the pleasant numbness when seawater first laps against scorched skin.
The seaside towns of saucy postcard fame started life as health destinations for the wealthy; elegant resorts where they could go to expel the urban air from their lungs. And with the expansion of the railways providing cheap fares to the coast, they soon evolved into pleasure playgrounds for the working classes also. But — like Dickens’ Miss Havisham — they were all too quickly abandoned in their finery, and left to decay when the increased cost of rail travel coincided with the affordability of the overseas package tour. Why risk a soggy week in Blackpool, when for the same price you could get guaranteed sunshine in the Mediterranean? The towns could do little else but keep vigil for the visitors who had swapped pale ale for sangria. Paint peeled on the arcades, theatres and Kiss-Me-Quick hat stalls, as they pined for vanished glory days.
But my family stayed loyal. To be honest, we had no choice. My mother, a cabaret singer, focused her lung power on winning talent competitions, where the prize was often a week in a seaside caravan or chalet: and her rendition of Memories provided us with holidays in Clacton-on-Sea, Rhyl and Paignton. So each year, we were packed off to spend several days together in a confined space — made even more claustrophobic by my parents’ personalities, which liked to clash at every available opportunity.
(This original article continues in our Issue Three)